Films directed by John Cassavetes are good films because they are honest and most importantly – uncompromisingly personal. Between the years 1959 and 1984, he made eleven films that were truly his. These films are still loved and adored to this day. His first film, Shadows (1959), gave birth to American independent cinema and inspired many a director around the world. His last film (we don’t count Big Trouble), Love Streams (1984), is my absolute favorite film of all time. It beautifully and perfectly captures humans’ deep need for love and thirst for ways to express it. Between these two masterpieces, he made a number of other films – most notably Faces (1968), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), and Opening Night (1977). In the midst of Cassavetes’ small and heavy filmography, a few films get lost and get denied proper recognition; “Husbands (1970)” is definitely one of these few unlucky pictures.
One can however see why. I saw Husbands after seeing many other films by John Cassavetes. Which was, in all honesty, lucky for me. I think making Husbands your first Cassavetes is a huge gamble that you are probably going to end up losing. For a viewer that is not familiar with John Cassavetes as a person and as a filmmaker, it would be too unorthodox and possibly even off-putting. Husbands takes the director’s technique of blending cinema verité and a method of acting that tries to imitate or even rely on improvisation and turns it up to 11. While making the few films that preceded Husbands, Cassavetes was trying to master this technique which he would become famous for later on. But it seems that he was also holding back. In Husbands, he completely let go and went all out.
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Husbands completely disregard what a normal person would think about how a film should be made. It starts off with a funky tune playing over photographs of Archie, Harry and Gus (played by Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, and John Cassavetes, respectively) having a good time with their friends and families next to a pool, flexing their muscles and goofing around. Abruptly cut to the next scene and we see the three men going to their friend’s funeral. We start to see what the caption on the poster really means at this point, “a comedy about life, death, and freedom.” Gus and Archie strike up a conversation about death, with one of them saying that stress causes it, and the other completely disregarding that information and simply saying, “Don’t believe the truth. The truth will kill you.”
When Husbands released in 1970, Roger Ebert completely bashed it and said that it shows an important director failing and not even understanding why. The script- for the acclaimed critic felt off and its desire to seem improvised was unsuccessful due to the actors’ performance. While I don’t necessarily disagree, I think that is what makes Husbands what it is. It is one of the films that come the closest to perfectly portraying reality and erasing the medium’s fictional nature even if the film’s reality is influenced by the characters’ over-the-top nature.
The film’s biggest strength, however, is its ability to remain engaging and exciting while having a pretty slow pace. The film is definitely longer than it should have been (The original runtime was over three hours), but that could have been easily fixed by shortening or even removing certain segments. However, the length doesn’t come close to ruining the overall experience. When the film is over, the characters have not changed much and neither have you. Though, it feels like you have a clearer perception of reality or at least their realities in general. The film may not have style but it certainly is rich in substance. Discussing mortality, morality, love, marriage, and truth; it does so goofily, ambiguously, and bizarrely that you wonder how it even manages to get it’s point across.
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Husbands is one of John Cassavetes’ weaker films. But it is still a Cassavetes film. It is every bit as awesome and unique as its director. Heavily reliant on its script and performance that tries to imitate improvisation, this film seems to be hit-or-miss with fans of the director. For me, it hit and hit heavily and managed to show me a pretty fun time while also making me think about all the heavy subjects it concerns itself with.
Watch the Husbands Trailer Here
HUSBANDS (1970) LINKS: IMDB, CRITERION COLLECTION